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Belfast's Holyland resident fears disorder could turn it into 'Covid-19 hotspot'

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The scene in Belfast's Holyland area on Friday morning. Credit: Bruce Gardiner-Crehan

The scene in Belfast's Holyland area on Friday morning. Credit: Bruce Gardiner-Crehan

The scene in Belfast's Holyland area on Friday morning. Credit: Bruce Gardiner-Crehan

Disorder by hundreds of young people in Belfast's Holyland could turn the area into a "Covid-19 hotspot", the chair of a residents' association has said.

Brid Ruddy's comments come after two men were arrested in connection with overnight disturbances in the area that saw house parties spill out onto the streets.

Police said they were called to scene in the Agincourt Avenue area at around 1.50am on Friday to find "that large crowds of people were partying, singing, and generally causing a disturbance."

"It seems that various house parties had extended to the street," a PSNI spokesperson added.

Officers spoke to several people and the crowds were later dispersed.

Footage from the scene circulating on social media shows hundreds of people singing, dancing and drinking on the streets - while flagrantly flouting social distancing rules.

Brid Ruddy, chair of College Park Avenue Residents' Association, said trouble in area has been escalating recently.

"This trouble has been accumulating for a number of weeks, pretty much since the start of the Covid pandemic. The best way I can describe what happened last night is that there were several riots on the streets," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

With all the pubs closed, there is just house parties happening every night. The police response has been almost non-existent, they give warnings and move people on, but then it just starts up again Brid Ruddy, chair of the College Park Avenue Residents' Association

"About 500 to 600 people were partying in the area, setting things on fire, jumping on cars and fighting. We're suppose to be in the middle of a pandemic, yet all this is going on. There are real fears the Holyland could turn into a Covid-19 hotspot, because none of the social-distancing rules are being followed.

"With all the pubs closed, there are just house parties happening every night. The police response has been almost non-existent, they give warnings and move people on, but then it just starts up again."

Ms Ruddy said more action needs to be taken by the PSNI, Belfast City Council, landlords, universities and parents to clamp down on the problems.

She said that, if more robust enforcement was taken weeks ago, the recent trouble could have been avoided.

"Landlords also have a lot to answer for, when the pandemic hit students weren't allowed out of their leases," she explained.

"This has led to a situation were, university hasn't been happening, students are at home with their parents, bored because everything is closed, and they think, 'Why don't we all just head to the Holyland and party?' Because the houses have been leased and are just sitting there, and landlords aren't doing anything about it.

"And what about parents? Surely some of them should be asking where there kids are and what they're doing. There's loads that travel down here and don't even live here. The just come for the parties. We residents are absolutely tortured, this place is turning into Benidorm."

Police said two men were arrested on suspicion of a number of offences in relation to the trouble, including disorderly behaviour, and are in police custody.

"Officers are appealing to those responsible to think about the consequences of their actions and to consider the impact of ending up with a criminal record, which has all sorts of consequences," the PSNI spokesperson said.

Alliance Party MLA for the area, Paula Bradshaw, said she was "absolutely appalled" by the behaviour, which has been increasing "night after night".

"It started in a small number of properties, but it now seems that tenants are opening up more properties for party venues. Clearly the area went into lockdown to stop community transmission of the coronavirus; however, they must be under some illusion that the pandemic is over," she said.

“The footage I have seen is, therefore, very worrying in terms of the totally unacceptable levels of on-street drinking, excessive noise, street littering; but also in terms of the very real threat that those attending these parties are vectors of COVID-19 and are infecting so many other people.

Coronavirus remains a deadly threat and avoiding further death relies on us all behaving responsibly. I’d encourage those there to think how they’d feel if they passed it onto someone they love Emmet McDonough-Brown, Botanic councillor

"We have seen in places across the world, where infected people have gone to nightclubs and spread the virus – this is entirely the same situation, with the close proximity, lack of social distancing and hygiene controls."

Ms Bradshaw urged parents to tell their children not to attend parties in the area and called on the PSNI to deploy more resources to deal with the "nightmare" for residents, who feel "totally abandoned“ and are "living in fear".

Botanic councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said: "Coronavirus remains a deadly threat and avoiding further death relies on us all behaving responsibly. I’d encourage those there to think how they’d feel if they passed it onto someone they love.”

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said they are aware of concerns around anti-social behaviour, littering and noise which impacts residents of the Holylands.

"We continue to work in partnership with the PSNI, universities and other statutory agencies to tackle and address these issues. Enforcement around serious cases of anti-social behaviour lies with the PSNI and can be reported by calling 101," they said.

Police have asked anyone with any information regarding the disorder to contact them on 101, quoting reference number 111 of 26/06/20.

Information can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Belfast Telegraph